What You Should Do at Hay Festival & How The Light Gets In

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Here is some of the inspiration we've garnered from the past few days at the UK's most forward-thinking festivals

Be moved
A stand out moment of the last few days was the unscheduled conversation between friends Stephen Fry and pianist James Rhodes who discussed, with heartbreaking honesty, Rhodes’ childhood abuse and the aggressive litigation battle he had been forced to undergo for his autobiography Instrumental to be published. The final section of the talk in which Rhodes read out his searing, expletive ridden paean to true love left the room agape, and many in tears. 

Rethink desire
That most basic of human emotions was explored from all sides, including by Catherine Hakim, who discussed the French attitude to affairs – “the French have made an art form of seduction, the journey of which is far more exciting than the end” and Dinesh Bhugra, who spoke on the weight of expectations behind desire – “Is there something wrong with someone if they don't achieve 'enough' but they are happy?” He ended with the thought-provoking statement, “Perhaps the ultimate goal of desire is inertia.”

Push your understanding 
Listen to as many philosophers as possible – as Mark Vernon says, “'Philosophy is important for your health and actualising your potential as a human being.”

Learn some new words
The festival creates the forum to express big thoughts and new theories - Robert Rowland Smith discussed the limits of knowledge, via the concepts of ‘Unforgetting’ and ‘Blindseeing', prompting his audience to make frenzied notes and dash home to google their meanings.

Consider the past in a new way
A talk between the head of Oxfam Mark Goldring, CEO of the British Library Roly Keating, Stephen Fry and Sandi Toksvig discussed the resonance of the Magna Carta 800 years on from its signing. The enormously popular Letters Live talk found celebrities reading out old missives, such the lines written by suffragette Bertha Brewster in 1913, which suggested two ways to stop the protests: “One: kill every woman in the United Kingdom. Two: Give women the vote.” 

Get a fresh, educated perspective on climate change
Led by the green energy company Good Energy, writers, business leaders and comedians discussed the public perspective on climate change, from the question “who cares?” to its representation in the arts.

Listen to the voice of experience
Martin Rees and Alan Bennett defied the retirement age with invigorating talks about how we can and must change the world. Rees discussed his hopes and fears for the coming decades, arguing that we should be treating climate change in the same way as if an asteroid was going to hit earth in 65 years – act now.  Bennett, talking about his forthcoming film The Lady in the Van, gave a heartfelt plea for compassion towards the homeless and the poor in society today – “Poverty is as much a moral failure today as under the Tudors.”

Be titillated by some sex talk
At How The Light Gets In, Rowan Pelling worked to banish the cloud of shame and guilt that so often surrounds personal sexual fantasies by asking the audience to anonymously submit their darkest desires on paper to be read out to the room. Cue confessions and blushes.

Be humble
David Brooks, talking as part of the Radio 3's Free Thinking panel, looked at both the statistics and practicality of humility today. As words like Kindness, Humility and Generosity literally disappear from literature and press, he made a powerful argument for this “vibrant virtue” – "one has to cultivate the capacity to have difficult conversations with the self…In order to find yourself, you have to lose yourself.”

Hay Festival and How The Light Gets In continue until May 31.